Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Seoul Caliber

What can you get for dinner for two for under $30 in Cleveland?

Ojinguh bokkeum, gop dol bibimbap, and banchan

A lot.

For dinner last night at Seoul Garden, our favorite Korean restaurant in the city, I ordered ojinguh bokkeum ($13.95), squid stir fried with onions, green onions, red and green bell peppers in gochujang, a spicy miso paste.

Bug ordered gop dol bibimbap ($12.95), which is a super heated stone pot that comes to your table sizzling with rice on the bottom that turns into a thin crunchy wafer of smoky rice, topped with lettuce, fern shoots, slivered daikon and carrots, pieces of beef bulgogi, and egg. Gochujang is served on the side and added at the table.


We were given 14 dishes as banchan, 13 of which are pictured above.

I don't know the names of all of these, so I've pieced together the names of some by Googling. The ones I don't know, I've described to the best of my ability, which is rather crude. :P

The banchan rotates quite a bit from visit to visit. Half of the banchan pictured were different from our previous visit.

From the bottom left to top, the banchan selection yesterday consisted of:
- sweet, marinated (in soy sauce?) sliced lotus roots -- I love the firm texture and mildly salty sweetness
- ggakdugi, daikon kim chee with slivered ginger
- slivered daikon and carrots kim chee
- slivered potato carrot creamy salad -- very addictive!
- baechu kim chee, napa cabbage kim chee
- wakame with daikon and carrots in rice vinegar -- slight sweetness reminds me of a Japanese side dish I ate when I was a kid
- mustard cabbage kim chee, vinegary -- all for Bug since I am not too fond of the crunchy mustard cabbage because it is so permeating
- sukju namul, bean sprouts with chopped green onions in sesame oil
- cucumber kim chee with long, thin slivers of green onions
- a subtly bitter tasty tiny leaf kim chee -- I could eat a pound of this. I need to figure out what these leaves are!
- squishy, juicy, slippery, salty, fishy and translucent, shaped like short noodles -- really interesting flavor and texture
- jap chae, noodles w/ veggies fried in sesame oil -- one of my favorites. I love the rubbery noodles and mild sesame flavor.
- bubbling steamed eggs in broth -- awesome!

Steamed egg banchan close up

Bug used to dislike the steamed egg dish, but I think seeing how much I love this has prompted him to like it, so now I have share. :( I adore the smooth, thick, but frothy texture. It tastes like it's simmered in a broth that I have yet to pinpoint, delicate and slightly salty -- perhaps it's chicken and seaweed?


Tteokbokki is such a different dish for someone who was raised on Japanese food. I have had round mochi plain, and round or rectangular sweetened mochi. I've even tried mochi fried and grilled in soy sauce, which I neither hate nor love. Japanese mochi can range from being hard, chewy, crispy, to super soft - like giggly soft - depending on how it's served.

This dish is really different. The mochi is long, cylindrical, and soft, but stands firmly on its own, despite being flavorless by itself, amongst the full-bodied thick and slightly sweetened gochujang fried along with onions, leeks, and bell peppers.

Miso soup

Korean style miso soup is more robust than the Japanese miso soup I've had. I can't describe it other than having a deep flavor that I'd expect from a red miso, without the slight tang. Or maybe I've just had funky red miso soup. I typically prefer white miso, but this soup is quite good despite it's saltiness. Wait, what miso soup isn't salty?

Ojinguh bokkeum

I love their ojinguh bokkeum, kim chee jjigae, dwengjang jjigae, soonduboo, and several other dishes, as well as the unagi. The unagi kabayaki has a slightly sweeter sauce than I am accustomed. It is tender, moist, has a slight chew, and is incredibly cheaper compared to any Japanese restaurant in the region, closely rivaling the price at the grocery store for a frozen serving.

The squid bokkeum has a lighter tasting sauce than the tteokbokki and is quite addictive over rice, which I REALLY shouldn't be eating. I do behave myself and only eat most, not all, of the rice served to me in my silver bowl. I don't ask for seconds anymore. The peppers really make this a well-rounded dish adding a different kind of sweetness and textural crunch.

The person who cooks here makes a killer looking batch of shrimp tempura. Someone at the table behind us ordered some. I can't help but think it's goofy to order Japanese food at a Korean restaurant, but I'm tempted to try the yakisoba since the unagi is done so well.

Gop dol bibimbap

Bug loves his hot stone pot bibimbap. He has ordered the dish the last handful of times we've been here. I'd have to say he much prefers this over the room temperature bibimbap.

I like gop dol bibimbap, but I'm not too fond of the crispy rice. The first time I ordered it, Bug asked why I bothered getting the hot pot version instead of the room temperature version since I leave behind the thin crispy, surprisingly not chewy if eaten at the right time, coating of rice on the bottom.

He has a point.

BUT, it is a fun dish to be served, with its crackling, sizzling, and intoxicating sesame aroma, and then mixing the numerous contents in the molten cauldron with the sweet gochujang. It's such a great dish to eat with the numerous banchan.

We love Seoul Garden not only for the delicious and bountiful food, but also for the warm, welcoming vibe. There is no snobbery (at least not openly :). The proprietress makes us feel like we're eating at her home, always smiling and bringing out dishes...making you tempted to say, "Thanks, Aunty!" The interior space is comfortable, clean, and in good taste.

Oh, she also makes a killer kimbap with meat, veggies, and egg!

- Cassaendra

Seoul Garden
5270 Pearl Rd
Brooklyn Heights, OH 44129
(216) 661-5990

2 deep thoughts:

wookie 27 May, 2009 01:04  

hey cass, it's wookie from SE. I wish you had a picture of the "...subtly bitter tasty tiny leaf kim chee --..." I'd take a stab at identifying the greens. Koreans love to eat seasonal and (sometimes foraged) wild greens. We often make a kimchi or a kimchi-like salad with whatever greens are handy. My mom reminisces about a green that I think literally translates into "stone crop." I'm addicted to a green called "crown daisy." My husband is addicted to a seasonal green called "doo rroop" in Korean. In English it maybe called fatsia shoots. Have not been able to verify the English name, yet. And the leaves of the chili pepper plant are sometimes blanched and seasoned...very tasty. now, i'm hungry again!

SicklyBug and Cassaendra 28 May, 2009 23:06  

Hi Wookie!

Tee hee, I've been looking for an excuse to go back. I'll definitely take a close up shot of it the next time I see it!

I googled the ones you've mentioned but they don't look familiar, at least in its live plant form.

If they don't have it, looks like I'll have to keep on going until I see it again. Thanks! :D

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